Editor's Note: The below letter does not necessarily represent the views of Patch media.
Because of the very real importance of reassessment and the significant effect it will have upon many of our 600 member households, as we discussed with Valerie many months ago, and as she approved, the Pine Brook Association planned to have a special meeting, with Valerie as well as the reassessment people present, for the purpose of explaining the reasons for and methods to be used as to the reassessment, and for explaining to the reassessment company various facts that relate to all or parts of the Pine Brook neighborhood. We wanted to give our members a chance to ask questions and to provide input before the process began.
We had also planned to do a special mailing to those families, produced together with the Town and the reassessment people, explaining matters. Of course we agree that every Town property owner needs to be educated as to what is going on, why and how, not just Pine Brook Association members. It had been our understanding that the Pine Brook meeting would take place before the reassessment people began their work, so that we would have a chance to have input into their methodology. Clearly that will not happen.
Since there will be six "workshops", at least one of which I will attend, it may no longer be necessary or even appropriate for the Pine Brook Association to hold a separate meeting or to do a mailing, although the mailing we just received does not describe the methodology to be used in any detail, other than to make it clear, as you confirmed, that no homeowner has to do anything to cooperate with any of this. Thus at least some homeowners who do cooperate will do so at their peril. There is not a single word in what we received as to how multi-family dwellings and commercial properties will be reassessed, despite the fact that we all know that the Town's tax losses from certiorari proceeding, at least until the last few years, related largely to them. What will be done to make them fair, to the extent that state law allows? What is planned to keep assessments fair, and accurate? Will properties be reassessed annually, every X years, upon sale, or every 43 years (since the last reassessment was in 1968)? What about apartment houses, co-ops and condos—will they be reassessed as rents rise, etc., since they are typically assessed based upon alleged rents? Why would any homeowner respond to the questionnaire we just received?
For example, why is the homeowner asked to set forth the architectural style of his or her house—what does that have to do with anything, and how is it even remotely possible that the reassesssment firm, if it does anything at all, cannot find that out for itself? Moreover the types of styles listed evidences the lack of knowledge of our Town by the reassment firm; for example, English Tudor, a very common style of house in the Town, especially in the Unincorporated Area, is not even included amont the listed styles. The questionnaire asks the homeowner to set forth the number of bathrooms, the number of bedrooms, the portion of the basement that might be habitable (with various options as to that, which are probably ununderstandable to many Town residents, and with nothing as to the fact that there are laws that can make a portion of a basement non-habitable space, and thus worth less than if it were habitable space, even if its ceiling is at least six feet high), etc. If someone with eight bedrooms answers the questionnaire and writes down 4, will his or her house be assessed as if he or she has four bedrooms, not eight? If not, why not? We would certainly like to know exactly how the reassessment people will ascertain what is in a house if the homeowner does not let them in.
Certainly they may guess at the number of bathrooms from the number of stacks visible on Google Earth, for the houses the roofs of which are visible, but how will they know whether a homeowner just did a $100,000 kitchen renovation, with no permit, thereby increasingthe value of his/her house, or not? Were plywood floors replaced by oak, or marble? Was the interior just redone, or not touched for the last thirty years? There may be a chimney, and a fireplace, but does it work? Is the bathroom worth more because it was redone, or because it is the original bathroom in a 100-year-old Victorian and this potentially worth more than if it had been redone? How does anyone tell any of this without entering the house—I assume we have not hired a batch of "peeping Toms"?
If there is no way to accurately ascertain the above, how is a reassessment which only accurately deals with the inside of some houses, and not of others, fair, to say the least? At this point it seems that the only homeowners who should cooperate with any of this are those whose homes are in such poor shape, or who have done nothing to improve them in years and years, that they hope to get their assessments reduced as a result. Anyone who has kept his or her home in decent shape should not let the reassment people into his or her home, and should not respond to the questionnaire. Also, there is not one word as to what a homeowner who disagrees with his or her valuation is to do to get it corrected, and there will surely be many who disagree. As I said before, to my mind all of this should be done fairly and accurately, and after soliciting and responding to community input, or not at all.